Fort Sumter and Bull Run Stamps Will Lead Off Civil War 150th Anniversary Commemorative Series

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This year the U.S. Postal Service will issue stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of two important Civil War events, the beginning of the war and the first great land battle. National parks preserve the sites of both of these events.

The Confederacy was launched soon after South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, and the Civil War got underway four month later. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, forcing its surrender the next day. No longer a war of words centered on the slavery issue, the Civil War was now a shooting war. Both sides raised armies of eager volunteers who believed that the war would soon be over, and with few casualties to count.

These beliefs were put to a severe test on July 21, 1861, when the first major land battle was fought at Manassas, Virginia. The First Battle of Bull Run -- called the First Battle of Manassas or just "First Manassas" in the South -- yielded a Confederate victory, thousands of casualties, and the sobering realization that both the North and the South might have to raise huge armies, shift their economies to a war footing, and fight a long and costly war.

That's exactly what happened. Union and Confederate forces ended up pounding away at each other in more than 10,000 skirmishes and battles fought in two major theaters during a war that dragged on for four long years, destroyed vast amounts of property, and cost more than 600,000 human lives.

The Civil War was certainly a watershed event in American history. More than just preserving the Union and ending slavery, it also reshaped the national economy, transformed the culture of the South, accelerated technological progress, and profoundly impacted millions of lives for both good and ill....

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